EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

January 23, 2013

Can't make a board meeting? Text from home

NH has no laws governing texting into public record

Londonderry Planning Board Chairman Mary Wing-Soares didn’t go to a Town Council meeting last month, but her comments were entered into the public record just the same.

Soares texted her remarks to Town Council John Farrell who read them and entered them into the public record and meeting minutes that night.

There’s nothing illegal about what happened in Londonderry, but at least one citizen has raised concerns that texting comments is disruptive and inappropriate.

It’s an issue more local boards are likely to deal with as technology makes being somewhere almost inconsequential to participation.

There is no state law that covers text messages during public meetings, according to New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan.

“The law permits outside participation by electronic means for a public body,” Scanlan said, “as long as participants can hear what is going on at meeting and the public in attendance can hear what the communication says.”

For now, all decisions on text messages will be made by the individual boards, he said.

“With the advances in technology, these questions are going to keep arising,” Scanlan said. “I’m sure if they become a problem, the Legislature will deal with them.”

But Londonderry resident Dana Coons was upset and wrote a letter to councilors expressing his concerns about the meeting Dec. 17.

His letter was read aloud at the Town Council meeting last week.

Farrell acknowledged Soares’s texts may have been unusual, but certainly not illegal.

“We do want people to participate, in any way shape or form,” Farrell said at the meeting Jan. 14. “This council wants full transparency and we’ll take it however we can get it.”

Londonderry acting Town Manager William Hart didn’t want to weigh in on the issue.

“It is up to the boards to determine how they want to run their meetings,” he said.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
New Hampshire

ET Videos